Graduate School of Education

The History of Professional Development Schools

In 1981, then Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, formed the National Commission on Excellence in Education.  The committee was charged with the task of examining the quality of the educational system in the United States.  Members were instructed to prepare a report that included both a critical review of the nation’s schools and practical recommendations for improvement and reform.  The 18 member commission was comprised of a combination of politicians, educators in both the K-12 and university level, and members from the business community.

In 1983, the commission had concluded their work and published the government report entitled, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.   A Nation at Risk (1983) discusses at length many concerns in the educational system in the United States.  Two primary areas that were focused on were student achievement as compared to other nations, and the preparation of teachers.  Regarding student achievement, the report expressed concern over the test scores of American students, especially in the areas of reading and math.   The report also expressed concern regarding the teaching profession.  Concerns were raised about the continuing education of teachers, the preparation of new teachers, and the degree of content knowledge that teachers possessed.  The report critiqued universities for having curricula that was too focused on teaching methods at the expense of practical experience in classrooms.  It was further suggested in the report that classroom teachers be given more opportunities to become involved in designing teacher preparation programs.

In response to A Nation at Risk, The Holmes Group (2007) laid out guidelines and recommendations for the creation of Professional Development Schools (PDS) as a means for reforming the educational system.  The Holmes Group was named for Henry Holmes who was the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University during the 1920’s.  Henry Holmes believed that the training of teachers had a great impact on all of society because teachers interacted and had influence over each and every child in the nation.  His goal was to train teachers as true professionals similar to the manner in which lawyers and physicians were trained. He believed that quality education began at the colleges through professional teacher education programs. He created a reputable program at Harvard, but it was short-lived and his ideas gained very little support (The Holmes Group, 2007).

The Holmes Group was formed in 1983 by the deans of the schools of education at SUNY-Albany, Michigan State, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.   They formed this group after working on a national task force for the accreditation of schools of education.  These three deans became disgruntled when they were unable to gain support to increase the level of quality for teacher preparation programs.  Like Henry Holmes fifty years before, they believed that educational reform was incumbent upon the colleges and universities because these institutions prepared the vast majority of teachers in the public school system.  In solidarity with his views - especially the concept that education reform begins with teacher preparation - they took on his name. (The Holmes Group, 2007).

The three deans of the Holmes Group immediately sought others that subscribed to their point of view and worked for several years to respond to the issues pointed out in A Nation at Risk.  In three separate reports that were all published between 1986 and 1990 (published in one volume in 2007), the Holmes Group laid the foundations and vision for reforming both schools and the manner in which teachers are inducted into the profession.  Their model, the Professional Development School (PDS), focused on six principles that provided a framework for school and university partnerships.  The six principles are (The Holmes Group, 2007):

  1. Teaching and learning for understanding
  2. Creating a learning community
  3. Teaching and learning for “everybody’s” children
  4. Continuing learning by teachers, teacher educators and administrators
  5. Thoughtful long-term inquiry into teaching and learning
  6. Inventing a new institution       

The Holmes Group (2007) believed that in order to implement these six principles, the university and school partnership had to develop into a center of collaboration.  PDSs needed to become a place for both inquiry and models of best practices.  This could only be accomplished by the creation of a professional learning community.  Professional learning communities are highly collaborative environments where teachers no longer work in isolation.  Instead, the isolation is replaced with a culture of teamwork that focuses on achieving common goals (Eaker, Dufour and Dufour, 2002).

The Holmes Group (2007) went on further to suggest that the best way to achieve a collaborative culture in a PDS was by using the partnership between medical schools and teaching hospitals as the functional model.  NCATE (2001) also draws parallels between PDS partnerships and the medical school model in their standards.  The medical school model has a long history of collaboration between its partners and the professors are usually practitioners at the hospital as well.  The needs of the patients drive the field work activities and all of the participants benefit from the relationship.

In general, people believe that they will get the best care at a teaching hospital.  This perception is fueled by the idea that when university professors are working with interns and physicians in the field, everyone is going to be using best practices to treat patients (Abdal-Haqq, 1989).  Although the fields of medicine and education have much dissimilarity, The Holmes Group (2007) and NCATE (2001) suggest that the results will be the same when school faculty and university faculty interact within a PDS partnership.

It is also important to make clear that PDSs are not intended to simply be a laboratory school for universities to conduct research. They are also not intended to be demonstration or clinical schools simply used to train student teachers (Holmes Group, 2007).  These models are one-sided relationships where reciprocity is absent and the association primarily benefits the university and pre-service teachers.  Laboratory and demonstration schools are partnerships that are typically dominated by the university (Abdal-Haqq, 1989; Teitel, 2003; Holmes Group, 2007).  Reciprocity is essential to the success of a PDS and they are actually a combination of a demonstration school, laboratory school and professional learning community (Holmes Group, 2007).  The PDS is a distinctive partnership where university faculty, student teachers, veteran teachers, and K-12 students are all engaged in learning, studying and researching together as a collaborative professional learning community (Teitel, 2003).

In 1995, as part of the education reformation process in the State of Maryland, the PDS model was mandated by legislation for the preparation of all new teachers.  Maryland Department of Education (2006) defines a PDS as follows:

A Professional Development School is a collaboratively planned and implemented partnership for the academic and clinical preparation of interns (student teachers) and the continuous professional development of both school system and IHE (institute of higher learning) faculty. The focus of the PDS partnership is improved student performance through research-based teaching and learning.


When PDSs are formed, they are expected to serve a variety of stakeholders in the educational community.  They should have distinctive traits unlike the schools that only serve as a place for field placements for student teachers.  A PDS should be a professional learning community where the partners share a common vision.  That common vision should provide support and guidance for student teachers, veteran teachers, university faculty, and the students that attend the PDS site (NCATE, 2001).  PDSs and universities need to work collaboratively to meet the needs of all its constituents.  The Maryland State Department of Education (2006) sets this standard by stating that, “PDS partners collaboratively create, conduct, and participate in needs-based professional development to improve instruction and positively impact student achievement.

As a partnership between a school and university, PDSs provide the foundation for simultaneous renewal of teacher education and schools (Goodlad, 1990).  These partnerships need to work together towards a change in culture so that a true collaborative professional learning community can emerge.  University deans and school administrators have a key role in providing the support and leadership for the partnership.  This support at the highest of level of each organization is essential to insure continuity of faculty and staff so that ongoing planning, implementation and assessment can take place and be effective (Budd, 2003).

Effective PDSs place the needs of the students at the center of all decision making (NCATE, 2001;  Tietel, 2003).  This can only be accomplished by reviewing the needs of the students and using best practices in teaching methodology.  Research suggests that this is best carried out when the school and university use student achievement data to drive the curriculum.  This further suggests that the PDS partnership needs to develop some type of governing group to set the standards that will support the desired outcomes.  The governing group or steering committee should meet regularly throughout the school year to monitor and evaluate the daily operation of the PDS (Budd, 2003; NCATE 2001; NAPDS 2008).  The steering group should have representatives from all stakeholders including, veteran teachers, university faculty, student teachers, union representatives and district administrators (NCATE, 2001, NAPDS 2008).

Feedback Form